Attorneys for children held in Noank shelter may seek damages

Now that the two immigrant children who were sent to a Noank shelter under a Trump administration policy have reunited with their parents, attorneys are determining whether and how to seek damages for the trauma the separation may have caused.

The attorneys, from Connecticut Legal Services and the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month for separating 14-year-old V.F.B, a Salvadoran girl, from her mother and 9-year-old J.S.R., a Honduran boy, from his father.

Until President Donald Trump issued an executive order stopping the policy, officials were jailing every adult caught illegally crossing the border or trying to do so, both misdemeanors. Officials sent accompanying children to warehouses or smaller shelters like the 12-bed place run by Noank Community Support Services, the only nonprofit in Connecticut that receives “unaccompanied alien children” under a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program.

The government separated more than 2,500 children ages 5 to 17 years old under Trump’s short-lived policy, NBC News reported Saturday.

Judge Victor A. Bolden of the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport ruled last week that it was unconstitutional for the government to forcibly separate families.

"To our knowledge, this is the first case in the country brought by children rather than parents to challenge the 'zero tolerance' policy, and the first in which a federal judge has held that forcible separation violates children's constitutional rights," said Muneer Ahmad, a Yale Law School professor, during a Tuesday news conference.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday granted each parent parole under “narrowly prescribed circumstances, such as a present ‘urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle L. McConaghy said in a court document.

The parents reunited with their children Monday in an unspecified part of Connecticut and are “overjoyed,” Connecticut Legal Services Deputy Director Joshua Perry said during the conference.

In a previous filing, McConaghy said J.S.R.’s father, J.S.G., came to the United States with his son about June 11. J.S.G. had been deported in April last year, McConaghy said, and on June 13 pleaded guilty to unlawfully entering the country again.

His son went to the Noank shelter the same day.

McConaghy said J.S.G. is “awaiting travel papers for removal.”

A.D.B.A., V.F.B.’s mother, came with her daughter about May 13, McConaghy said. Officials shipped her daughter to Connecticut the next day. A.D.B.A.’s immigration proceedings are ongoing.

In their complaint, attorneys said both families fled violence in their home countries and hoped to get asylum, which is a legal process.

Someone murdered the Honduran boy’s grandparents, the attorneys said, and left the body of a family friend in his backyard.

The attorneys said gang members killed the Salvadoran girl’s stepfather when he refused to lend them his scooter.

A doctor who testified July 11 in Bridgeport said both children have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called Bolden courageous for his ruling and accused the government of purposely understaffing immigration offices so people with legitimate claims for refugee status or asylum can’t make them.

“We’re the country that’s in violation of our 1951 obligations,” Malloy said, referring to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a United Nations treaty that defines refugee rights and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

Ahmad said those involved in the children’s case were meeting with Bolden on Tuesday afternoon to see how to move forward. A status hearing was scheduled to take place in Bridgeport on Wednesday morning.

“The first step was release and reunification,” Ahmad said. “We’re still pursuing with our clients what more they may need. We’re consulting with medical experts. Acute PTSD will not heal overnight.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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